Growing connection and building belonging: Online library support during COVID-19

This is the story of how my Learning Advisor colleague, Kate Derrington and I designed and then adapted our Online Study Support program for the COVID-19 context.  Kate wrote this piece with me, and I originally presented it at the Council of Australian University Librarians Webinar: Innovative library responses to COVID-19. (Kate had lost her voice). This version has a few additions to the Looking forward section as things continue to evolve.

I will provide links to a recording and information about the Webinar program at the end of the post.

COVID-19 restrictions: Impact on our students & how we responded

We know that as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, students have experienced uncertainty and disruption caused by the unexpected – and sometimes unwanted – move to online study. In addition, significant changes in their personal circumstances, have left many students under-prepared and under-resourced for online study.  

Our response was to redevelop an existing program of evidence-based online learning support we craftily called: Online Study Support. The original program was built upon Sally Kift’s transition pedagogy, being intentional, student centred (just-in-time, just-for-me) support, extending beyond orientation.  Responding to transition pedagogy, Kate and I offered weekly tutorials through the Semester, and we provided flexible content adapted to the needs of attending students.  We also demystified and encouraged support-seeking behaviours by referring students to other support services to build student confidence in their new study environment.  

In addition, Kate and I used a holistic engagement model, inclusive of social engagement, founded on the work of Petrea Redmond and Cathy Stone. We wanted to increase a sense of belonging and perhaps help students persist with their studies. To foster community and belonging, Kate and I introduced ourselves each week, and practised being authentic. We listened and responded with empathy.

So, how did the Online Study Support program work in S1 2020?

In Semester 1 2020, Kate and I invited Cristy Bartlett and Samanthi Suraweera, our Learning Advisor and Liaison Librarian team for Engineering, to join us and offer a ‘repeat’ weekly 1 hour zoom tutorial. Repeat is not at all the right word. The tutorials shared a weekly focus on a specific skill pertinent to that time of Semester, and an emphasis on connection. However, Cristy and Samanthi brought unique gifts to the program, including discipline and content expertise, and their own warm and interactive presentation style that feels like a chat by the fire – lovely!

As previously, all tutorials provided some prepared content or a demonstration, with the majority of time given to discussion and questions on this skill, or any other area of student concern.  Fourteen discrete topics were offered over the course of the Semester.

The overall redevelopment of the original Online Study Support program for the COVID-19 context provided

  • More times for students to access the tutorials each week
  • Access to another Learning Advisor and Liaison Librarian team, and to their valuable perspectives on content and delivery 
  • Additional content, pertinent to the COVID-19 context, including ‘online and take-home exams’ 
  • Provision of the tutorials into the exam period (we had previously finished by that time of Semester) 


We evaluated the Online Study Support program through the Semester to assess whether the provision of ongoing support and attention to the many elements of engagement were appropriate for, and evident to our students.

How did the students respond?

Online Study Support sessions are generally lively and peppered with student questions and discussions. Discussions might be with the facilitators, and/or between students. The image below was created to provide a sense of this by mapping a very small selection of chat comments and survey responses to aspects of transition and engagement.


Crucial to the COVID-19 environment has been the ability to reach students. To date, we have all shared our Online Study Support program through our personal and professional connections. It is available via the library website, and shared by our wonderful Client Support team – on chat, phone, and via email. Online Study Support is promoted on Course and Discipline Moodle sites. The program is also featured in various Student Relationship Officer communications with students. Promotion by these means has helped boost our numbers from a modest 1-3 attending at the very  beginning of Semester to a peak of 83 students across the two sessions in the final week.

Looking forward 

In Semester 2 2020 we will

  • Diversify our content to appeal to and meet the needs of a broader range of students 
  • Increase interactivity with large groups by using Zoom Webinar
  • Use higher-level promotional strategies – facilitated by our managers, Lyndelle Gunton and Debi Howarth
  • Invite a third advisor and librarian discipline team to increase opportunities for students to participate and for the facilitating teams to access more strengths in terms of expertise and perspectives
  • Invite the Maths Learning Advisors to the program, to offer their unique and valuable content, and their expertise and perspectives

I am very excited for Semester 2 2020.

The CAUL Webinar

You can watch the entire Webinar on YouTube. I added a direct link to Kate and my presentation in the program below.


The program was eclectic and represented much of the enormous world of university libraries. A common theme was caring for our communities: for our clients, for colleagues and staff, and for our wider communities during this disruptive and uncertain time.

  • ‘Enhanced support to travel restricted students based in China’, Pamela Good, University of South Australia
  • ‘Insights from UWA Library’s COVID19 client experience data’, Alissa Sputore, University of Western Australia
  • ‘Online Workshops Made Easy (with a lot of hard work)’, Catherine Hay, Griffith University
  • ‘Growing connection and building belonging: Online library support during COVID-19’, Rowena McGregor & Kate Derrington, USQ
  • ‘Empathy and story-telling: Supporting staff during the pandemic’, Clare Thorpe, University of Southern Queensland
  • ‘Going virtual at UON Libraries’, Michael Paver, University of Newcastle
  • ‘Community Legends’, Amy Dale, University of Adelaide
  • ‘Face shields for Healthcare workers in Regional Toowoomba’, Steph Piper, University of Southern Queensland
  • ‘The perfect storm: seizing COVID-created opportunities’, Carlie Nekrasov & Kayleen Wardell, Southern Cross University


Questions and comments are always welcome, please use the comment function.